Thursday, April 13, 1989
Maple tappin' time
You can make syrup
from trees in backyard
By Mark Sakry
For the News-Tribune
The moon, though slight, was
moon enough to show
On every tree a bucket with a lid.
And on the ground a bear-skin rug of snow
Evening in a Sugar Orchard
The Chippewa call the maple ninautuk (our own
tree), and they may rightfully claim it, for the Indians were the first to harvest maple
sugarcenturies before Europeans came to this continent. It was a joyful event, and families united on forays to
the sugar bush each spring to fill birch-bark makuks with the sugar they processed there.
With a few simple items
from home, you can also engage in the annual sugar harvest. And if you have even two
or three maple trees in your vicinity, you can produce syrup
right in your
Maple sugar moon
In northern Minnesota the
maple syruping season usually begins in mid-March, when warming days are followed by
freezing nights and large patches of snow seem to linger on the ground. These daily
temperature fluctuations, along with increasing periods of daylight, tend to generate sap
The run often lasts about a month, so there still might be time for you
to get in a bit of tapping this season, depending upon conditions in your area.
You may see dark stains where sap weeps naturally from scars in
treessometimes it actually "rains" on you from the treetops.
Various maples, including boxelder, can be tapped. But the sap of
the sugar maple offers the highest concentration of sugar. Birch also produces
sugar, but so much less than maple that twice as much sap is needed to make the same
amount of syrup.
Trees with high, open canopies are the best sugar producers. Good
exposure to summer sun helps build starch reserves, which are ultimately converted to
sugar during the rapid-growth period of early spring (this is the sugar you collect).
Hence, city mapleswhich do not compete for sunlight as forest trees
dooften produce more syrup.
Sap flow varies from day to day and tree to tree. Many claim that
flow is heaviest during the full moona period the Chippewa call ee skee guh mee
see gay gee zis (maple sugar moon).
Use a carpenter's brace or
drill fitted with a wood bit to bore your tap-holes. The size of your bit should be
the same diameter as the spiles (spouts) you will insert for taps. Spiles can be
made from 5/8- or 3/4-inch clear plastic tubing, available at most hardware stores, and
should run right from your tap-hole to your collecting jug on the ground.
Only tap trees that are at least 10 inches wide at the base; larger
trees will tolerate additional taps (as many as three for a 24-inch maple).
Bore each tap-hole 2 to 3 inches deepat a slight upward angle to
the trunkabout a foot or two above the ground. Locate taps directly above the
largest roots on sunny sides of trees for best yield.
One-gallon plastic milk jugs make ideal collectors because they are
lightweight and won't break when sap freezes; rain won't enter them; and you can see how
full they are at a glance.
Spiles should be cut in lengths extending a few inches inside each
collector. Cut the end that goes into the tree at a 45 degree angle and insert it
"mouth up" to better collect sap. Make sure each spile's fit is snug to
If you've never seen maple
sap before, don't be surprised when your collectors fill with a clear liquid. Maple
sap is not dark, as many assume. Nor is it syrupy. It is thin and clear like
water. When you taste it, however, it is indeed sweeteven though much boiling
is needed to reduce it to a rich syrup. It usually takes roughly 40 gallons of sap
to make one gallon of syrup.
At the beginning of
the season the sugar content of the sap is at its highest, which means that only about 20
to 30 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of syrup.
A forest maple will produce as little as eight gallons of sap in one
seasona city tree, if it is large and well-exposed to the sun, as much as 100.
Hence, a few good trees in your own yard may produce enough sap to make a gallon or
two of syrup.
As collectors fill, transfer the sap to a larger storage container (a
clean, unused plastic garbage pail with a snap-on lid works nicelyuntil you're ready
to boil it down. Sap gets cloudy if it sits too long, so don't wait more than a day
or two to boil it. Keep your storage container "on ice"out of the
sunon the north side of your house.
A five gallon platic pail or carboy works well for gathering and
Sap can be boiled-down
right on your kitchen stove, but be sure you have a good fan on your range that vents
exhaust to the outside. Otherwise your walls will be dripping with moisture.
For the more
industrious, a makeshift wood-burning fireplace can be made out of cement blocks in the
backyard. Use the top and bottom of an old roasting pan as a "double"
evaporator (you can preheat sap in one, then ladel it into the other as the sap boils
down). But any large, flat metal pan will work.
Scrap sheet metal can be fitted around the pan(s) on top, and across
the top-front of the fireplace, to conserve heat and create draft for your fire.
complicated about making maple syrup. When you boil sap, water evaporates and sugar
remains. You add nothing to it.
As it boils, sap gradually darkens and foam forms on top. Skim
the foam off periodically with a coffee strainer to clarify syrup. Keep adding sap
to the evaporator as syrup reduces.
Depending on how much sap you collect, boiling can take many hours.
It's all right to cool partially boiled syrup in the evaporator overnight for
continued boiling later. As long as it will hold it, you can keep adding sap to the
same batch of syrup in your evaporator for the entire season. But be sure it's
covered whenever you leave it, and resume boiling within a day or two.
During the final stages of
boiling, syrup will start to thicken very quickly. It must be watched very closely
at this point to prevent burning or boiling over. Hence, the "finishing
off" process is best performed on a kitchen stove where heat is easily controlled.
A four-gallon canning kettle works well. Syrup should be stirred constantly
during this critical stage.
Syrup is done when it reaches a temperature of 7 degrees above the
boiling point of water (compensating for altitude). By the "seat of the
pants" method it's done when it runs off your spoon in thin ribbons, as in
Strain finished syrup through multiple folds of cheesecloth then
transfer to sterilized jars with air-sealed lids. Refrigerated, or processed for 10
minutes in a boiling water bath, maple syrup will keep almost indefinitely.
At the end of the maple run, plug tap-holes with wooden dowels
fashioned from a maple branch.
THE DULUTH NEWS-TRIBUNE / THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 1989
Copyright C. Mark Sakry 1989
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